Gorilla Moments

Leslie Hand, founder of Movie Glimpse, tells the story about a Catholic woman working on the set of E.T., and the brief exchange she had with director Steven Spielberg. During filming, Melissa Mathison and the cinematographer suddenly realized the similarities between the plot and the story of Jesus Christ. "His being left on earth, being found, his apostles, dying, the resurrection. We were cracking up when we figured out that one. When we told Steven [Spielberg], he said, 'I'm Jewish, and I don't want to hear anything about this.'"

Professor Richard Wiseman would refer to this as a"gorilla moment". The concept is developed in his book, Did You Spot the Gorilla? How to Recognize Hidden Opportunities. The synopsis explains:

In a recent series of ground-breaking psychological experiments, volunteers were shown a 30-second film of some people playing basketball and told to count the number of passes made with the ball. After just a few seconds, a man dressed as a gorilla slowly walked into frame, beat his chest at the camera, and sauntered off. Unbelievably, almost none of the people watching the film noticed the gorilla. Exactly the same psychological mechanisms that cause people to miss the gorilla also make them miss unexpected but vitally important opportunities in their professional and personal lives.

I'm always wary of using "secular" theories to support biblical truths, but I think the good professor's on to something.

In my last entry, Conversion Stories, Janet Rubin wrote in and left this comment:

My husband Dave came to the Lord 2 years ago. He had NO religious background whatsoever and his only Bible knowledge came from Veggietale videos he watched with our daughters. We were having a terrible trial at the time and he just came to God saying, "Things haven't been going very well with me in charge. I think it's time to let the Big Guy take over." He didn't know how to pray and couldn't even tell you who Abraham was, but God changed his life.

Now, I won't ask what a grown man is doing watching cartoons. But for whatever reason, he was startled by a gorilla. He was enjoying a harmless children's show, when suddenly Someone wandered through, unexpected like. And he began to see something he'd previously missed.

According to Scripture, God is in our midst, infusing the world with His presence. Like that gorilla, He roams the corridors of our lives, haunting our films, literature, language and myths; strolling through the everyday minutae, the mundane and commonplace. We may not always see Him, but we cannot escape His presence.

Yet seeing the Gorilla and helping others see Him, is the essence of Christianity. One of Jesus' favorite lines was, "The kingdom of God is like..." The kingdom of heaven was like wheat and tares, seeds and soil, sparrows and lilies -- it was right there, if they only opened their eyes. That's a "gorilla moment," when suddenly the kingdom of God isn't a vague concept, it's the earth between your toes, the cry of the infant and the sparrow building its nest. In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul stood at the altar of the Unknown God and said,

Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:23

That's what Melissa Mathison did when she told Steven Spielberg his cute little extra-terrestrial bore a strange resemblance to the Son of God. It was a "gorilla moment," one that the great director would rather not witness. He'd become an unwitting messenger of the Gospel. If you look closely, you'll find gorillas everywhere -- opportunities to unveil the Stranger in our midst, to articulate glimpses of the Gospel. So the professor had it right, he just missed the biggest Gorilla of all.


michael snyder said...

Thanks, I needed that.

Starting tomorrow, I'm a part-time gorilla hunter.

Heather Smith said...

Thanks, Mike. I needed to remember that there are opportunities to point people to Christ all around me. The most common thing can be used as a witnessing tool. Even if the makers didn't intend them to be used that way!!

Gina Holmes said...

Thanks for that Mike. I forget to pray for those opportunities. When I did, don't you know they came around a lot, or like you suggested, I simply noticed them.
Great think piece. BTW, Veggie Tales ministers to me quite often.
Go, Bob!

mike duran said...

Mike, Heather and Gina, thanks for visiting. In this case, I hope you track monkey doo back to your respective circles. But Mike, if you're going hunt gorillas, it is only for the purpose of observation, as the sightings are becoming rare.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome reminder for Christian Writers. I think most stories tend to root back to 'the' story happening around us. It's almost like we don't have a choice. I attended a NPR guest event where they had a movie critic discussing the trends in movies today. I found it very fascinating that he felt Europe was light-years ahead of America with their story-telling, because instead of a super-hero coming and setting everything to right --which stems from America's Christian culture of Christ coming to save us-, they were making films were communities come together (he credited Pixar as being ahead of the trend, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Toy Story.)

Yet, even there, it's a good image of the church, learning to put aside differences and becoming one. LOL- is there an escape from the Gorilla?

Jessica D.

Ame said...

From Experiencing God, Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Workbook by Henry T Blackaby & Claude V King, page 15:

"God is Always at Work Around You: Right now God is working all around you and in your life. One of the greatest tragedies among God's people is that, while they have a deep longing to experience God, they are experiencing God day after day but do not know how to recognize Him. By the end of this course, you will have learned many ways to recognize clearly the activity of God in and around your life. The Holy Spirit and the Word of God will instruct you and help you know when and where God is working. Once you know where He is working, you will adjust your life to join Him where He is working. You will experience His accomplishing His activity through your life. When you enter this kind of intimate love relationship with God, you will know and do the will of God and experience Him in ways you have never know Him before. I cannot accomplish that goal in your life. Only God can bring you into that kind of relationship."

I think you're in pretty good company, Mike! It's pretty cool to look at life like that - however defined. (Only a man would come up with "Gorilla" to define a moment or opportunity, but I love it!) I'll never think about Gorillas in the same way again.

ps - i love veggie tales videos too :) written by men, they take on a whole different twist in the world of children's videos and tv - nice break from the stupid stuff :)

evandahlke said...

"Monkey doo back to your respective circles"

One of the best things you've said so far. Spreading Christ even when you may not know you've stepped in it or that it's even on your shoe.

Please note that this is only a metaphor. I do not consider Christ to being monkey poo, that is reserved as being our best efforts.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article. Isn't this what Jesus did? He'd look around and see how he could convey a truth. If a bird flew by, he'd say, "Hey think about the birds..." We (writers) are storytellers, just like Him. I think Jesus invented gorilla hunting! I was surprized to see that I was quoted- feel pretty famous now! By the way, you ought to watch Veggie Tales. There's some pretty good theology in there:)
Janet Rubin

mike duran said...

Jessica, Ame, Evan and Janet, thanks for visiting. I'm praying for simian sightings for the lot of you. But in this case, Evan, do not wipe off your shoe.

Kelly Klepfer said...


I wowed when I read this. And then said hmmm - wasn't there something about gorilla doo in an old e-mail somewhere, where's the doo? And you didn't fail me. It was smeared around in the comments. : ) Just sorry I didn't get here sooner. I did meet my goal and kept my family intact during busy November. : ) We are fragrances to God and the world - maybe life smells earthy like gorilla doo.

Thanks, buddy.